In a privileged position on the northeastern coast of the Iberian peninsula and the shores of the Mediterranean, Barcelona is the second largest city in Spain in both size and population. It is also the capital of Catalonia, 1 of the 17 Autonomous Communities that make up Spain.
There are two official languages spoken in Barcelona: Catalan, generally spoken in all of Catalonia, and Castillian Spanish. The city of Barcelona has a population of 1.510.000, but this number spirals to more than 4.000.000 if the outlying areas are also included.
The capital of Catalonia is unequivocally a Mediterranean city, not only because of its geographic location but also and above all because of its history, tradition and cultural influences. The documented history of the city dates back to the founding of a Roman colony on its soil in the second century B.C. Modern Barcelona experienced spectacular growth and economic revival at the onset of industrialization during the second half of the 19th century. The 1888 World's Fair became a symbol of the capacity for hard work and the international outlook projected by the city. Culture and the arts flourished in Barcelona and in all of Catalonia; the splendor achieved by Catalonian modernism is one of the most patent displays.
Barcelona, more than just a single city, is really a collection of multi-faceted and diverse cities. The visitor unfamiliar with its history might be surprised that such a modern and enterprising city preserves its historic Gothic center almost intact, or by the curious contrast between the maze of narrow streets and the grid-like layout of the Eixample, the urban planning "Enlargement" project of the end of the 19th century.
Since the massive clean-up operation of the beach and nearby Olympic marina and village undertaken for the 1992 Olympics, this area has become a magnet for Barcelonans and visitors alike. A lot of effort goes into maintaining the cleanliness of both sand and sea, which is tested daily, and all beaches have disabled access, lifeguards (in season), sun beds and showers.
One of the most notable features of Barcelona is the city's great architectural richness, a characteristic that is the result of the succession of the peoples who have inhabited the city during many hundreds of years, and is manifested in an urban structure that has been configured in four major phases:
• The early nucleus. The first important architectural landmarks date back to the original nucleus inside the city's Roman walls, the centre of which is the Plaça de Sant Jaume. This first phase witnessed one of the crucial processes in the life of the city: its Romanization.
• Mediaeval and modern Barcelona. The Mediaeval period gave Barcelona one of its outstanding architectural gems, the Gothic quarter, which presents all the splendour of an era epitomized by the Plaça del Rei, with its churches, houses, palaces and chapels and the façade of the Cathedral. Of note outside of the Gothic quarter are carrer Montcada and its noble palaces, the historic Hospital de la Santa Creu, the Drassanes shipyards and the monasteries of Sant Pau del Camp and Santa Maria de Pedralbes. Fine examples of the architecture of the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries can be found in Barcelona in the churches of Betlem, the Mare de Déu de la Mercè, the Casa de la Caritat, the Palau de la Virreina, the Labyrinth in Horta and the various manor houses still to be seen in Barcelona.
. The construction of the Eixample and Modernisme. In addition to outstanding public buildings such as the Boqueria market, the University, the Gran Teatre del Liceu Opera House and the Plaça Reial, this period was marked by the construction of Barcelona's Eixample or New Town to a project by Ildefons Cerdà. Modernisme, too, has left an architectural legacy of the first order. The work of Gaudí (the Sagrada Família, the Casa Milà-La Pedrera, the Casa Vicenç, the Casa Batlló, Park Güell, etc.), Puig i Cadafalch (the Amatller and Martí houses, the Palau Macaya, etc.) and Domènech i Montaner (the Hospital of Sant Pau, the Palau de la Música Catalana) are all key points of reference in the history of architecture, while a number of them are also World Heritage sites.
• The present. Here we have a considerable number of very fine works of architecture constructed for the Universal Exhibition of 1929, many of which are on Montjuïc and around the Plaça d'Espanya (the Font Màgica, the Palau Nacional, the Poble Espanyol, the Mies van der Rohe Pavilion, etc.). The most recent architecture to be built in Barcelona is in two phases: the first of these spans some 50 years, from the 40s to the 90s, and includes numerous residential blocks, the faculty buildings in Barcelona's university campus area, the Col.legi d'Arquitectes, the Fundación Joan Miró and the Trade office blocks; and a second that begins with the 1992 Barcelona Olympics and continues up to the present day. Of significance from this second phase are public amenities such as the Espanya Industrial park, the area around the Mapfre Towers or the Rambla del Raval, cultural facilities such as the MACBA, the CCCB, the Ciutat del Teatre, and the Auditori, and other new constructions being built for the Universal Forum of Cultures in 2004.